1972: Baby Ruth

Carly Priest

Opinions Editor

 

On Tuesday, Representative Mark Walker (R-NC), chair of the Republican Study Committee said of his female colleagues: “…the accomplished men and women of the RSC [Walker pauses]…And women [laughs] if it wasn’t sexist, I would say the RSC eye-candy, but we’ll leave that out of the record.”[2]

In other news, the year is 1950 and four out of five doctors recommend smoking Morris cigarettes over Newports. I mean, really? Yikes.

What is the Republican Study Committee? According to the RSC website “About” section, “[The RSC] serves as the conservative caucus of the House Republicans and a leading influencer on the Right.”[3] As the website continues: “[The RSC] exists to bring like-minded House members together to promote a strong, principled legislative agenda that will limit government, strengthen our national defense, boost America’s economy, preserve traditional values and balance our budget” (whatever that means).[4] As vague as that description is, the RSC has been around since 1973.[5] In the 115th Congress (currently serving) there are over 150 RSC members, sixteen of whom are women.[6] [7] Walker later issued an apology: “During a press event today, I made a flippant remark meant to be light-hearted but fell short. I’m proud of the women who serve in our RSC leadership.”[8]

There’s nothing quite like watching an all-white group of (mostly male) politicians on camera say something so outrageous that people do a double-take to make sure they’re not accidentally confusing The Onion with the news. I can’t decide which one of Walker’s two statements is worse— the man deftly demonstrates two different manifestations of sexist behavior.

Let’s break them down:  in his first “eye-candy” comment, Walker demonstrates an explicit, ugly sexism that’s readily discernable. As he calls his equally-qualified, equally-educated female colleagues “eye-candy,” Walker illustrates a bite-sized version of the ways in which dormant patriarchal culture continues to rear its ugly head in the workplace. Walker strips his female co-workers of their intellectual stature, sexualizes their bodies, and insidiously denigrates their abilities.

In his second statement (a formal apology for his press conference remarks), Walker accentuates the less-visible (though no less prevalent) kind of sexism women face (to varying degrees— understanding and acknowledging intersectionality is crucial to upending social hierarchies) every day. In this second statement, Walker first apologized for the “flippant”— “displaying unbecoming levity in the consideration of serious subjects or in behavior to persons entitled to respect”— nature of his remarks (according to the Oxford English Dictionary, Walker actually employs the fourth, more origin-distant definition of “flippant,” but I’ll let it slide).[9] To focus on this first aspect of Walker’s apology for a moment, it seems intensely problematic that Walker apologized for the ill-timed or situationally-inappropriate reference to his female co-workers as “eye-candy,” but neither addressed nor apologized for the sexist nature of the remark. That’s like saying “I’m sorry I made a joke about your black eye” instead of “I’m sorry I punched you in the face.” Walker then followed his “flippant” apology with a deferred assurance: “I’m proud of the women who serve in our RSC leadership.”[10] Gee, thanks Mr. Walker— I guess I’m… proud of you too? One could cut the paternalism with a knife.

Speaking as Baby Ruth (eye-candy… “Baby Ruth” candy bar…too good to pass up), we must acknowledge and illuminate the problematic absence of women in positions of leadership in our country. As Newsweek reported Tuesday: “Of the 408 nominees for top jobs that Trump sent to the Senate for approval, 327 were men and 80 were women.”[11] Though women represent only a small fraction of our government leaders, we must first and foremost recognize that white cis-gendered women compose that fraction— and that women of color, transgender women, and queer women are almost entirely excluded. Move over Representative Walker— our army marches at dawn.

 

[1] Ariella Philips, “Rep. Mark Walker calls female colleagues ‘eye candy’ during press conference,” The Washington Examiner, September 26th, 2017 (accessed 26 September 2017), http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/rep-mark-walker-calls-female-colleagues-eye-candy-during-press-conference/article/2635738.

[2] Caroline Kenny, “RSC Chair Calls Female Colleagues ‘Eye Candy’ During Remarks,” CNN, September 26th, 2017 (accessed 26 September 2017),

[3] Caroline Kenny, “RSC Chair Calls Female Colleagues ‘Eye Candy’ During Remarks,” CNN, September 26th, 2017 (accessed 26 September 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/26/politics/mark-walker-eye-candy-remarks/index.html.

[4] “About,” The Republican Study Committee (accessed 26 September 2017), http://rsc-walker.house.gov/.

[5] “About,” The Republican Study Committee (accessed 26 September 2017), http://rsc-walker.house.gov/.

[6] “About,” The Republican Study Committee (accessed 26 September 2017), http://rsc-walker.house.gov/.

[7] Caroline Kenny, “RSC Chair Calls Female Colleagues ‘Eye Candy’ During Remarks,” CNN, September 26th, 2017 (accessed 26 September 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/26/politics/mark-walker-eye-candy-remarks/index.html.

[8] Harriet Sinclair, “GOP Representative: I’d Call My Female Colleagues ‘Eye Candy’ If It Wasn’t Sexist,” Newsweek, September 26th, 2017 (accessed 26 September 2017), http://www.newsweek.com/gop-lawmakers-calls-his-female-colleagues-eye-candy-672001.

[9] “flippant, adj.”. OED Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/71661?redirectedFrom=FLIPPANT (accessed September 26, 2017).

[10] Harriet Sinclair, “GOP Representative: I’d Call My Female Colleagues ‘Eye Candy’ If It Wasn’t Sexist,” Newsweek, September 26th, 2017 (accessed 26 September 2017), http://www.newsweek.com/gop-lawmakers-calls-his-female-colleagues-eye-candy-672001.

[11] Harriet Sinclair, “GOP Representative: I’d Call My Female Colleagues ‘Eye Candy’ If It Wasn’t Sexist,” Newsweek, September 26th, 2017 (accessed 26 September 2017), http://www.newsweek.com/gop-lawmakers-calls-his-female-colleagues-eye-candy-672001.

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